A dream of financially empowering the youth

Naimuz Saadat Niloy

To ease the trade and transaction of money, many mobile financial services have emerged over the years. Akib Moin Arka works at one of the biggest ones out there. He is currently working as a Product Manager in bKash. Here’s what he dreams to achieve through bKash.

1. What is it like to work at the biggest fintech service in Bangladesh?

Although bKash is primarily recognized as an (MFS) Mobile Financial Services company, it also belongs to the Fintech category, based on the nature of various services it provides. Working in such a big Fintech company is definitely very exciting, and rewarding.

bKash is changing so many people’s lives on a daily basis, and I get to be a key component in bringing that change, as I work in the product team of bKash. I get to work with the very product that creates value for the people from a number of different aspects in their everyday life. 

2. Tell us briefly about how you reached the place where you are right now.

After completing my SSC from St. Joseph Higher Secondary School, and HSC from Notre Dame College, I prepared for the IBA-DU admission test, and by Allah’s grace, I got in. After obtaining my BBA degree from IBA-DU, I applied for a few jobs, and again, by Allah’s blessing, I was selected in the first-ever Management Trainee program of bKash. I had to go through comprehensive training, and job rotation across all the divisions for 6 months. After that, I was placed in a role and was given the responsibility of different projects in the product team. Upon successful graduation after 2 years, I was promoted as a Manager, and was given a higher set of responsibilities. Now, I am working as the Product Manager of the bKash App.

3. Is it more difficult to market a financial product than other products? 

For any industry, product marketing is a tricky job, as this is where the value is generated for the business, before it is delivered, and communicated to the people. In Bangladesh, people are familiar with traditional financial products for a long time now. But when it comes to digital financial products, Bangladesh is naturally not on the same level as other developed countries in the world, given many barriers such as inadequate financial and tech literacy, the unavailability of infrastructure, the penetration of smartphones, etc. But the good thing is we have started, and we are gradually getting there by doing great things. From our country’s perspective, fintech product is not something most people are habituated with and not something they need every day like salt or soap. Then again, if you see the increasing number of fintech services available in Bangladesh at the moment, it can be understood that there are indeed both explicit and latent demand, and the businesses are trying to be as innovative as possible in meeting them. If take a look back at the beginning, when bKash came to market, it created a storm, because in Bangladesh, most people live in rural areas and they are not solvent enough, or even equipped to subscribe to the formal banking services. So bKash came in and solved the need for transacting money, storing money and withdrawing money wherever you want, whenever you want. So that was previously an unsolved market problem MFS companies mitigated, and in doing so, they grew very quickly. But now the challenge is to go up the ladder and target the middle- and upper-class segments of the society and make them understand the value and convenience of digital payment platforms and Fintech services in their everyday life. To achieve that, bKash is working hard and we are launching new products and services continuously. Sending money and cashing out are the two main services that most MFS are known for, but using bash, you can recharge your mobile balance any time, make payments at all kinds of retail stores, supermarkets, local grocery stores, and for online services, pay your utility bills, and education fees, receive remittance, and avail many other services such as buying train, bus, air, launch, and movie tickets, booking hotel rooms for travel, etc. The list of new products and services keeps getting bigger every month.

4. What do you have to say to the youth of today?

When I take a look around me, I find most of the youth of our time to be very proactive in things that matter, and that is an amazing revelation. They focus not only on their studies, but also on extracurricular activities, and that’s a very encouraging sign as this was not the case 20-30 years back. Back then, the only extracurricular activity was maybe debating, that too for only a handful of people. But now, the scenario is different, where people are engaging themselves in different business competitions, voluntary services that help the community, marathons, etc. But most importantly, the youth now look for part-time jobs while studying, which helps them gain the experience they need, before entering into the job market. 

Unfortunately, our curriculum is not up to the mark considering other parts of the world. So, I would suggest them to learn new and practical skills that are not taught in our universities, like coding, data science, digital marketing, UI/UX design, and many other skills. There are many online platforms where students can teach themselves these skills. So, it will be for the best if they can allocate some time from their 4 years of university life to learn a skill or two of their choice.  

5. Tell us how bKash is causing social change concerning the youth. 

From the very first day, bKash targeted the people who are not subscribed to formal financial services, and those who are unbanked. This has been the primary vision, but after achieving considerable success here, bKash has now been focusing on other segments of the pyramid, especially the youth. One thing I can say that now the youth can be more financially empowered with the help bKash. For example, a brilliant girl got the chance to study in Dhaka University, but his family lived in Rangpur. So, when MFS was not there, the family would face a huge challenge in sending money to Dhaka for that girl. They couldn’t give a big sum of money altogether for a year, and so, they had to worry every month about how they could send the money, and whether it would reach safely to their daughter. But now through bKash, they can send the money anytime within an instant. Not only that, we know that many students do not own formal bank accounts. Some banks do provide student bank accounts, but not every student goes through the hassle of documentation, and other banking formalities to open and manage those accounts. On the other hand, all students can open a bKash account very easily, and by using it, they can learn to manage their own personal finances. This helps them cultivate a saving mentality, and prepare for the responsibilities of the upcoming adult life. We are creating early adopters of digital financial services in the form of these youth, all the while giving them the opportunity to learn how to be accountable for their own dealings in future life. We believe that by engaging the youth in digital financial services early on, we are shaping up opinion leaders, who can spread awareness on the usage and importance of digital services in making different aspects of everyday life very convenient.

6. Imagine yourself leading a project initiated by bKash, tell us how would you like that project to be and what will be its purpose and how will it engage or influence the youth? 

I believe I am already working on a project like that as the different services that bKash is providing now are targeted towards the youth. So, if you say that if I want something different from bKash, I would say that I would want a product that is completely youth-centered. If you can remember, Grameenphone launched a product called Djuice in the mid-2000s, targeting the youth, and campus people. So, I would like to design a product like that, and the purpose would be to empower the youth through the adoption of digital financial services. I would want to identify the pain-points, and challenges they face regarding financial and payment decisions in their everyday life and design the product in such a way that it not only solves those pain-points but also adds value in a number of productive ways to their lives. After building the product, it would require a strong marketing and communication campaign with a message that is relevant, simple, and understandable by the youth. I would be extremely grateful, if I got the opportunity to pursue such a project, and make a positive impact in shaping up the future leaders of our country.

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